In yet another attempt to placate critics, the Armenian government has again altered a controversial bill that would allow the existence of schools where the main language of instruction is not Armenian.
The bill involving amendments to Armenia’s laws on the state language and public education was twice watered down before being passed by parliament in the first reading in June. In particular, the government agreed to restrict to two the number of private foreign-language schools that would be allowed to operate in the country. They would have to be located only in the resort towns of Dilijan and Jermuk.
The existing version of the bill also stipulates that up to nine foreign-language high schools can be opened elsewhere in Armenia in accordance with inter-governmental agreements signed on a case-by-case basis.
Education Minister Armen Ashotian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Wednesday that the government last month edited a legal amendment which says Armenian is the language of instruction in the country’s schools “except cases specified by the law.” He said that was changed to “cases of instruction in foreign languages.”
Ashotian described that change as “very important” and criticized opposition parties and other critics of the bill for refusing to acknowledge that. “None of our critics has read [the newly amended draft,]” he claimed.
“This new change does not dispel our worries at all,” said Lilit Galstian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “I even see a contradiction here.”
Galstian said Dashnaktsutyun and another opposition party represented in the Armenian parliament, Zharangutyun, will try to clinch more government concessions at upcoming parliamentary hearings on the issue. “The government should reckon with public opinion,” she said.
The National Assembly is due to vote on the bill in the second and final reading after those readings.
Aram Apatian, a leader of a non-partisan pressure group vehemently campaigning against foreign-language schools, also dismissed the latest government concession, saying that the bill must be scrapped altogether. “We demand that these proposals be withdrawn by the government or rejected by the National Assembly,” Apatian told RFE/RL.